Learning, attentional, and perseverative deficits are characteristic of cognitive aging. In this study, genetically diverse CD-1 mice underwent longitudinal training in a task asserted to tax working memory capacity and its dependence on selective attention. Beginning at 3 mo of age, animals were trained for 12 d to perform in a dual radial-arm maze task that required the mice to remember and operate on two sets of overlapping guidance (spatial) cues. As previously reported, this training resulted in an immediate (at 4 mo of age) improvement in the animals' aggregate performance across a battery of five learning tasks. Subsequently, these animals received an additional 3 d of working memory training at 3-wk intervals for 15 mo (totaling 66 training sessions), and at 18 mo of age were assessed on a selective attention task, a second set of learning tasks, and variations of those tasks that required the animals to modify the previously learned response. Both attentional and learning abilities (on passive avoidance, active avoidance, and reinforced alternation tasks) were impaired in aged animals that had not received working memory training. Likewise, these aged animals exhibited consistent deficits when required to modify a previously instantiated learned response (in reinforced alternation, active avoidance, and spatial water maze). In contrast, these attentional, learning, and perseverative deficits were attenuated in aged animals that had undergone lifelong working memory exercise. These results suggest that general impairments of learning, attention, and cognitive flexibility may be mitigated by a cognitive exercise regimen that requires chronic attentional engagement
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